1. Scoresby, William, Jr. (1789-1857)

An Account of the Arctic Regions, with a History and Description of the Northern Whale-Fishery.  Edinburgh: Archibald Constable; London: Hurst, Robinson and Co., 1820.


A beluga whale, from William Scoresby, Jr., An Account of the Arctic Regions, 1820.


Jan Mayen Island, with the Beerenberg in the background, from William Scoresby, Jr., An Account of the Arctic Regions, 1820.


Repairing the Esk at Spitsbergen, from William Scoresby, Jr., An Account of the Arctic Regions, 1820.

Scoresby was a remarkable man—a whaling captain who managed to make valuable scientific observations of the Arctic while engaged in the business of running a whaling ship.  His Account of the Arctic Regions ushered in the modern age of polar science. 

It was Scoresby who had suggested to Sir Joseph Banks in 1817 that now might be a good time to renew search for a Northwest Passage, since the ice off Greenland was less formidable than it had been for many years.  Banks in turn told John Barrow, the Second Secretary of the Admiralty, who responded by sending out the first of many Royal Navy arctic expeditions the very next year.

Scoresby’s book has a lengthy section on “Polar Ice,” where he differentiates for the reader iceberg, ice floes, sea ice, and many other forms.  He included a long chapter on the zoology of the arctic, where he discussed, and illustrated, the polar bear, the narwhal, and the beluga whale.  He carefully packed the skeleton of a walrus (which he called a “seahorse”) into a cask and sent it to Robert Jameson of Edinburgh, who placed it in the University Museum.

He visited Jan Mayen Island, north of Iceland and east of Greenland, in August 1817, in his ship the Esk of Whitby, and he marveled at both the volcanic nature of the ice-covered island, and its towering mountain, the Beerenberg, which rose over 6800 feet (by his reckoning) above the surface of the sea.

In 1816, the Esk visited the island of Spitsbergen, and his ship was rammed by an underwater iceberg projection that stove in the hull and knocked off part of the keel. 

Scoresby attempted to turn the ship upside down in the water to repair the damage, but they couldn’t get it past horizontal, and so he resorted to fothering the ship (stuffing the hole with shredded and tarred rope), which allowed them to pump out the water and repair the damage from the inside.



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